We’ve already suggested that you need to keep on practicing the Mindfulness of Breathing. Meditation isn’t something that you can do once and see lasting benefits. It’s something you have to do regularly in order to bring about the development of new habits.
We’ve also suggested that it’s a good idea to alternate the Mindfulness of Breathing meditation with the Metta Bhavana (or development of lovingkindness) practice. The two practices complement each other beautifully.
The four stages you’ve learned — (1) Counting after the out-breath, (2) Counting before the in-breath, (3) Dropping the counting and following the sensations of the breathing as a continuous, unbroken process, and (4) Focusing on the sensations at the rims of the nostrils — can be regarded as tools. As with any tools, they have to be used intelligently. At first, as an exercise in learning to develop familiarity with the tools, I’d suggest that you stick to doing all four of the stages in order, giving equal time to each stage. You might want to keep this up for several months of practice, or perhaps a year or so.
Thereafter, you can work on applying the tools. The first stage (counting after the out-breath) helps calm the mind. So if your mind is already calm, or if you’re sleepy, then you might want to skip this stage. The second stage stimulates alertness, so if your mind is already over-stimulated you might want to skip that stage, and stick with the first stage in order to slow your mind down.
If you find that your mind settles quickly and that you’re already alert and mindful, you might want to skip both of the first two stages and go straight into the third, or even four stage. If you find, during one of the later stages, that you’re all over the place, then you might want to go back to one of the earlier stages.
I’ve been meditating for 30 years, and I still use the counting on certain days when my mind is unruly, although these days I’m more likely to start with the third stage of the practice, or even the fourth. But the tools are there, and I’m happy to use them as seems appropriate. We call this, making the practice your own.
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Lastly, the approach we take here is only one amongst many, and the tools we teach are just a few of those available. So feel free to explore other approaches. We have some excellent books that you can buy in our bookstore. Wildmind is an Amazon Associate, and you have the security and convenience of shopping online with Amazon — direct from our site.